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Friday 26th May 2017

What a sad, sad Sunday it was with the passing of Jose Fernandez. Not much I can say beyond what we already feel or know. Shades of Ken Hubbs and Tony Conigliaro, losing not just a young player, but such a talented one.

Within that context, maybe it is a good thing that we finish the 2016 season looking ahead at some of the young players I am high on for 2017. That does mean this is the last Hotpage of our 20th year, and that means the Hotpage itself goes into Winter mode. There will be a column in November covering the 2017 Top 250 Prospects, and in December we will review the Winter Meetings and trade circus.

Ideally, come January, I will be #MockDraftArmy-ing with my mate Howard Bender (@RotoBuzzGuy), and will report back from the FSTA convention in Nashville. Come February, we will go back into full tilt mode, covering Spring Training, LABR, Tout Wars, and some other fun stuff.

So, let's finish off, as noted with some young talent I think has some serious room to grow as we look towards next spring.

Kyle Barraclough (RP, Marlins): Let's start with the Fish, who seem to be marked, losing their franchise arm and unable to keep their star outfielder healthy all year. But, perhaps some good things are coming from the Northern California native who looks to be the next closer in the Miami area, drafted in the seventh round in 2012, then swapped for Steve Cishek in 2015. In the Minors, the now 26-year-old righty was 6-6, 2.70, with 28 conversions over 146.3 innings with 185 strikeouts, although 80 walks contributed to an ungainly 1.316 WHIP. Barraclough, who debuted briefly last year, has settled down, going 6-3, 2.76 over 71.6 innings this year with an awesome 110 strikeouts, good for a 13.8 K/9. He did walk 44, but allowed just 42 hits (1.200 WHIP) and looks like a guy to invest in now.

Trevor Story (SS, Rockies): Not much of a secret is the shortstop who replaced Troy Tulowitzki and then led the NL in homers the first few weeks of the season. In fact, Story was a top pick all over following his .277-18-63 2012 at Asheville as a 19-year-old. He then faded into the fabric of the Minors. But last year, Story had a solid 69 games at New Britain (.281-10-40 with 15 steals) and then off to Triple-A Albuquerque for 61 more games (.277-10-40 with seven steals), and that was good for a .279-20-80 mark with 22 swipes. Story hit the #242 slot on last year's 2016 Top 250 Prospect List, including getting blue fill in his cell on the spreadsheet for being a sleeper in my view. So, I will let the words I wrote on January 11 of this year speak for themselves. Looking ahead, though, I think the 23-year-old will get better, especially playing half of his games at Coors.

Jett Bandy (C, Angels): I just like this guy, and though I am not totally sure how good he will be as a Major Leaguer, let alone fantasy gamble, I am certainly willing to risk a dollar on him in Tout and LABR next year. But, in my Strat-O-Matic Dynasty League, I am surely looking at Bandy, who has hit .239-8-25 over 66 games and has some pop with over one-third of his Angels hits going for extra bases. Since catchers develop their hitting later, working on defense and calling games, two areas which Bandy is already pretty good (he has nailed 40% of base runners trying to steal), I am guessing Bandy will have a great Strat card. He will be a guy I can draft in the fourth round or so looking towards the future.

Jon Gray (P, Rockies): Yeah, yeah, Gray is a Rockies pitcher, but he was the #3 overall pick made in 2013 out of the University of Oklahoma. Gray whiffed 285 hitters over 282.3 minor league innings, with a 20-12, 3.76 mark. But he really did target missing bats this year with 182 strikeouts over 162.6 innings, great despite the 4.54 ERA, as witnessed by the 1.233 WHIP. Gray will get better, and possibly be dominant enough so that it really doesn't matter where he pitches.

Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals): A ninth-round selection in 2010, Merrifield, now 27, has had a slow crawl up a system that has been chock full of future stars. But he seems to be one of those quiet kind of middle infielders that can do everything ok, but nothing really spectacularly. He has hit .273-43-265 over 719 minor league games, banging 169 doubles and stealing 142 bases while walking a modest 238 times to a manageable 476 strikeouts (talk about a two-to-one ratio). Nothing flashy, but I still have a feeling that the keystone player, who has hit .282-2-25 with seven swipes with the big club this year, will get some nice quiet full-time play next year, and put up a season-long mark along the lines of his history: .270-10-50 with ten swipes. The thing is he will be a $1 investment in auctions and a reserve pick in most drafts, meaning well worth the price.

Alex Dickerson (OF, Padres): Some good things seem to be working in the land of the Friars, including Dickerson, a third-round pick of the Pirates in 2011 who was then swapped to San Diego for Jaff Decker in 2013. Dickerson assembled an impressive minor league line of .309-58-325 over 524 games with 153 walks to 366 strikeouts (.367 OBP) and an .867 OPS. The 26-year-old is .259-10-37 with five steals over 78 games this year, but I would expect a nice jump next year, and a chance at becoming one of the big hitters in the NL come 2018.

Ender Inciarte (OF, Braves): Some of the spoils from the worst trade of last year, Inciarte was a hot commodity after his .303-6-45 performance with 21 steals for the Diamondbacks last year, which is part of why the Shelby Miller swap seemed odd. But, Inciarte was injured in the spring, making a late debut and getting going slowly this year. But, the end results were a fine .296-3-29 line with 16 swipes over 125 games. Inciarte will likely be an afterthought/filler in a lot of leagues next year, but he should help a lot with swipes and average and runs scored, great for a late-round selection.

Tanner Roark (SP, Nationals): After a great 15-10, 2.85 season in 2014 pitching 198.6 innings, Roark disappointed us all in 2015, going 4-7, 4.38 over 111 innings and a frustrating season. But, Roark, now 29, rebounded in style this year, going 15-9, 2.70 over 200.3 innings with 162 strikeouts and a 1.163 WHIP.  Still, based upon the ups-and-downs, Roark will be a fourth starter for a lot of owners, and maybe lower in shallow mixed leagues. Take the gamble: he is good.

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